WASHINGTON, DC -- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has passed a bill Representative Mike Michaud cosponsored to preserves EPA's policy (adopted in 1976) that treats forest roads as nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act. The legislation, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, has strong bipartisan support because it codifies the EPA's successful policy that forest roads are best regulated through state-adopted Best Management Practices (BMPs).
"There is a strong consensus in Maine that working forests create jobs and benefit the environment. They supply fiber to mills and contribute to our growing biomass energy sector among many other things," said Michaud, a longtime member of the committee. "By preserving the EPA's rule and providing a stable regulatory environment, this bill helps ensure the economic integrity of working forests, manufacturing and recreation jobs, and our environment."
In Maine, the majority of forests are privately owned (16,232,206 acres versus 959,640 public acres) and their economic contribution is significant:
- Total Jobs from Private Forests: 47,093
- Total Payroll from Private Forests: $1,704,522,675
- Annual Sales from Private Forests: $4,021,425,043
- Percentage of Manufacturing: 21.61%
A new permit requirement could greatly increase costs for forest owners, loggers, haulers and mills and in turn undermine the competitiveness of businesses in the forestry sector.
BACKGROUND: Despite a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) v. Decker, ongoing litigation in the Ninth Circuit continues to generate uncertainty and litigation risk for federal, state and, private forestland owners. The silviculture legislation is needed because the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in NEDC v. Decker upheld EPA's position that forest roads do not require mandatory point source permits but did not address the Ninth Circuit's ruling that forest roads are point sources. In August 2013, the Ninth Circuit restated its position that forest roads should be regulated as point sources.
Forest landowners, 31 attorneys general, counties, and a broad coalition of interests across the country all agree that forest roads do not require permits. Nonetheless a small minority continue to challenge EPA's longstanding policy through the courts. The ongoing litigation has increased legal uncertainty for federal, state, local and tribal governments, and forest owners. The Court's order underscores the importance of addressing this issue legislatively. Doing so could help preserve over 2.5 million jobs in the forest products industry in 47 states.